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IOWA 21, NEBRASKA 11: WINNING UGLY

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Iowa finally got tested in a Big Ten dual meet -- what did we learn?

I expected a closer dual meet when Iowa ventured to Lincoln on Sunday afternoon and that expectation was met -- although I did not expect the sort of wrestling that was on display yesterday.  For the most part this was not wrestling for the faint of heart -- or for the neutral fan looking for excitement.  Scoring was at a premium -- not one, not two, but THREE matches ended with identical 2-0 final scores (all achieved by the winning wrestler earning an escape point and riding his opponent for a full period).  Those three matches were all 0-0 after the first period; the 174 lb match even featured a rare double stall warning for both wrestlers after a particularly turgid period of "action."  (It was a surprising call, but wholly deserved.)  (The 285 lb match could have easily been 0-0 as well if not for the new rules that penalize wrestlers for backing out of bounds; Nebraska heavyweight Collin Jensen got dinged for doing that twice and found himself down 1-0 after the first period as a result.)  In half of the matches there was one takedown (or none, as was the case in the 2-0 matches), although that does include the 184 lb match, which featured a first period pin -- that was certainly pretty exciting (although less so for Iowa fans, considering it was Sammy Brooks getting stuck to the mat).

It was also a dual meet with ill tempers on display -- things got heated after the 133 lb match and again after the 157 lb match.  In fact, after the latter match the coaches for both teams rushed on to the mat to separate their wrestlers and prevent the situation from escalating any further.  It wasn't entirely clear what was said or done there, but it ended up with Nebraska getting docked a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct.  The Iowa-Nebraska rivalry may not have entirely caught on in football or basketball yet, but there doesn't seem to be any shortage of animosity between the programs in wrestling.

The bad feelings combined with a great deal of, let's be honest, bad wrestling made for an overall viewing experience that was less than pleasant.  At most weights Iowa wrestlers looked flat and somewhat uninspired.  Nebraska featured several quality opponents -- they were the first team Iowa has faced all year that featured a ranked wrestler at every weight -- and maybe that inspired some extra caution from Iowa, but the end result was a very cagey, very low scoring, and very tense dual.  There were not many performances on the Iowa side that would inspire great confidence.  On one hand, that's not the end of the world -- no Big Ten or NCAA titles are won in January and every team is likely to hit a lull at some point.  On the other hand, some of these hiccups were not quite one-off phenomenons, either. Cory Clark's offense from neutral has looked stagnant for a while.  Brandon Sorensen's matches have been getting closer and closer.  Alex Meyer has become the master of the 2-0 match.  Sammy Brooks had a brain fart and got caught -- again.  These issues aren't the worst problems, but they are problems -- and they'll need to be fixed before Iowa can seriously challenge for hardware this year.

125 #2 Thomas Gilman DEC (11-4) #9 Tim Lambert IOWA 3-0
133 #3 Cory Clark DEC (2-0) #14 Eric Montoya IOWA 6-0
141 #20 Anthony Abidin DEC (7-6) UR Topher Carton IOWA 6-3
149 #2 Brandon Sorensen DEC (6-5) #5 Jake Sueflohn IOWA 9-3
157 #16 Edwin Cooper, Jr. DEC (7-6) #17 Tyler Berger IOWA 12-2*
165 #14 Austin Wilson DEC (2-0) UR Patrick Rhoads IOWA 12-5
174 #12 Alex Meyer DEC (2-0) #16 Micah Barnes IOWA 15-5
184 #11 T.J. Dudley FALL (1:40) #7 Sammy Brooks IOWA 15-11
197 #3 Nathan Burak DEC (4-2) #15 Aaron Studebaker IOWA 18-11
285 #7 Sam Stoll DEC (6-2) #18 Colin Jensen IOWA 21-11

* Nebraska was deducted a team point for unsportsmanlike conduct after the 157 lb match.

125: Gilman has been Iowa's most consistent wrestler all season and he largely fulfilled expectations in this match -- he cruised to an 11-3 decision over an opponent he had beat just 2-1 the last time they met and who had wrestled close matches against other top opponents this season (such as an 8-5 loss to Penn State's Nico Megaludis).  It would have been nice to get the major, especially since it seems like Gilman might have been able to do so if he had started the takedown-and-release plan a little bit earlier in the match, but that's a quibble.  Gilman rolled through a Top 10 125er -- that's exactly what we want to see.

133: Clark, on the other hand, did not roll through a Top 20 133er.  He earned a 2-0 win behind an escape and by putting on a very solid ride in the second period, but the lack of offense from neutral was concerning.  Also concerning was Montoya's ability to get to Clark's legs -- Clark was able to force stalemates or escape those predicaments in this match, but letting opponents get to your legs often is a recipe for disaster in the long run.  Still, Clark hit a mid-season funk last year before turning things on in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments, so there's plenty of reason to give him the benefit of the doubt for now.

141: Carton was oh-so-close to claiming his first win of the season over a ranked opponent -- and might have do so with some less... curious... strategy.  Carton found himself down 4-0 early in this match, but to his credit he kept battling back.  He used a reversal to cut that lead to 5-2 at the end of the first period and used a takedown in the second and third period to ultimately tie the score at 6-6.  The third period is when the match strategy got funky.  Carton opted to begin the period in neutral, foregoing a chance to start on bottom and earn an escape point.  In hindsight, that point certainly would have come in handy in a match he lost 7-6.  Then, after tying the match at 6-6, he gave Abidin an intentional release (giving Abidin a 7-6 lead), thinking that he could score the winning takedown from neutral.  Alas, he could not.  I understand the thought process... to an extent.  Abidin seemed to be fading and Carton had already recorded two takedowns on him.  On the other hand, there wasn't much time left after Carton scored the takedown that made it 6-6, so he didn't have much time to go after that winning takedown.  As far as not taking down at the start of the third period, Carton had been ridden hard in the first (and given up near fall points), but Abidin seemed to be wearing down and it's very hard to give up the opportunity to get that escape point.  Carton displayed some nice fight-back in this match, but he can't just concede points on the mat as easily as he did in this match -- not unless he's going to be a real attacking dynamo from neutral.

149: Sorensen had another cagey decision win, although this won is more justifiable than some of his other recent non-bonus point wins -- Sueflohn is a high quality opponent and his length seems to make him a tricky challenge for Sorensen (in particular, BS really struggles to ride Sueflohn, which is a little surprising, given his strong ability in the top game otherwise).  Still, without a brief lapse at the end of the first period by Sorensen, this may have been a much more comfortable decision win for him.  He got the opening takedown to go up 2-0, but Sueflohn got an escape and a lightning quick ankle pick off that escape to go up 3-2; Sorensen was able to escape just before the end of the period to make it 3-3.  Sorensen actually trailed 4-3 after the second period after giving up an escape to Sueflohn, but used an escape and takedown of his own in the third to get the win.  It's hard to get too upset about any win over a Top 5 guy, but it would be nice to see Sorensen getting a bit more separation from the other guys at the top of this weight class.

157: Cooper's match paralleled the 141 lb match in some curious ways, with Cooper in the Abidin role and Berger in the Carton role.  Cooper capitalized on an early mistake by Berger to get a takedown and a 2-point near fall to take a quick 4-0 lead, but did little after that.  He led 6-3 after a pair of escapes in the second period, but a Berger escape and takedown in the third tied the match up at 6-6.  Then Berger, like Carton at 141, gave Cooper an intentional release (and a 7-6 lead) while he went searching for the winning takedown.  He came very, very close to getting it (he was in deep on a shot as the final whistle blew), but ultimately came up short.  I'm not going to look a gift point in the mouth and I'm glad that Cooper won the match, but I would have liked to see how he would have responded to the final 30-45 seconds of the match if Berger hadn't given him the escape.  It would have been nice to see Cooper dig deep and earn the escape of his own ability.

165: This was the second of the three 2-0 matches in the dual and it was as predictably uninteresting as that score would suggest.  Rhoads got the call over Paddock here, but this performance did not exactly close the door on Paddock for the rest of the season.  Rhoads didn't show much in the way of offensive attacks from neutral and his inability to get an escape in the third period was very frustrating.  It's awfully tough to win a match -- against anyone -- if you won't do anything in neutral and you can't get an escape from bottom.

174: The third and final 2-0 match of the night belonged to Meyer and Barnes and was the least surprising of the night, given Meyer's lack of offense lately.  This was his second 2-0 win in his last three matches and his sixth match since the beginning of Midlands in which he scored three points or less; to his credit he is 5-1 in those matches.  That's the thing with Meyer -- yes, he's wrestling a lot (LOT) of close matches... but he's also winning them, and there's something to be said for that.  Still, the bigger concern is that he's wrestling close matches against 174ers that aren't elite; it's very fair to wonder if this strategy can be effective against the better guys at this weight.  And purely from an entertainment standpoint, it would be nice if Meyer would take (and finish) a shot once in a while; this was the match where both wrestlers received a stall warning during a 0-0 first period and as I said, it was fully deserved.

184: Well, that was disappointing.

Brooks made a mistake, Dudley pounced on it and that was that.  Dudley has a damn good cradle and once he had that locked in, there was little hope for Brooks.  Brooks won the first match between the two, 6-4, although that was also two years ago.  There will probably be a rubber match between them at the Big Ten or NCAA Tournament (or both); let's hope Brooks learns from his mistake here before that match.  The bigger worry is that this lack of focus has been a semi-recurring thing with Brooks.  Sometimes it just manifests itself as giving up an early takedown; against weaker opponents, that's not too debilitating and Sammy can usually overcome it by refocusing and pouring on the offense.  But sometimes it manifests itself as giving up a big move, like the pin here or the near-pin he gave up in a loss to Nolan Boyd last year.  The challenge for Brooks is balancing his aggression and attacking prowess with the caution needed to avoid those mistakes; I don't want to see Brooks become an overly cautious wrestler and be fearful of letting loose on offense for fear of getting caught... but seeing him get caught and punished for mistakes is also pretty frustrating.  Hopefully he can figure out how to strike the right balance there.

197: Burak, the third of Iowa's three undefeated men (along with Gilman and Sorensen) kept his unbeaten streak alive by edging a close decision over Studebaker, a lanky hulk of an opponent.  There was another 0-0 first period here before Burak broke through with an escape and a nice double leg takedown in the second period to open up a 3-1 lead.  There were some tense moments in the third as Burak went on the defensive to keep Studebaker from recording his own takedown, but he came away with the win in the end.

285: Stoll finished off the dual for Iowa by rolling out to a comfortable 6-2 decision, using his size and strength to his advantage.  Jenson put a good ride on Stoll for 1:55 in the second -- before Stoll was able to secure a reversal.  That was a huge turning point in the match as it looked like Stoll was going to go into the third period up 1-0 but down two minutes of riding time and needing to ride out Jenson (or secure a takedown) in the third to get the win.  The reversal put him up 3-0; a stall call on Jenson and a takedown in the third made the score 6-1 and put the match out of reach. It was nice to see Stoll continue to aggressive in the third and get that clinching takedown.  He looks better and better each week.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: This is a fun watch each week; two Iowa-Nebraska matches (Dudley-Brooks, Berger-Cooper) are featured tonight.

NEXT: Iowa returns home to welcome Minnesota (7-6, 3-2 B1G) for a border rival throwdown on Friday (8 PM CT, BTN). It could get ugly.